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Oil Drilling, Fracking Exempt from Mandatory Water Conservation

PHOTO: The Belridge oil field near Taft in Kern County is nearly the size of a major city, and produces an extraordinary volume of wastewater every day, which some water-strapped Central Valley farmers are purchasing to water their crops. Photo credit: Peg Mitchell/San Diego 350.org.
PHOTO: The Belridge oil field near Taft in Kern County is nearly the size of a major city, and produces an extraordinary volume of wastewater every day, which some water-strapped Central Valley farmers are purchasing to water their crops. Photo credit: Peg Mitchell/San Diego 350.org.
April 10, 2015

BAKERSFIELD, Calif. - California Gov. Jerry Brown last week ordered the first-ever mandatory water restrictions in state history. The State Water Resources Control Board is imposing an immediate 25 percent reduction in water use among the 400 local water agencies around the state.

But Patrick Sullivan with the Center for Biological Diversity says the governor failed to include oil and gas exploration in his water cutback order, despite the massive amounts of water used in fracking operations.

"The oil industry is using some two million gallons of water a day in California for fracking and other types of oil extraction," says Sullivan, "and much of that water is contaminated and taken out of the water cycle for good."

Much of the area affected by fracking is in the southern San Joaquin Valley near Bakersfield, where Sullivan says frackers are often working in areas near farmers who, once again this year, are not receiving any water deliveries from the state because of the drought.

According to Sullivan, most fracking in California uses fresh water that could otherwise be put to use for drinking water or farming. He says the water situation has become so severe that in some cases farmers are using oil operations' wastewater on their crops - and that isn't all.

"There are hundreds of oil-industry disposal wells that are dumping contaminated oil waste into aquifers in places like Monterey County and Los Angeles and Kern County," he says. "Right now, across the state."

Sullivan says the state has done a poor job of providing oversight, and added that California doesn't have effective rules regulating water use by the industry.

"There are now some rules requiring disclosure of where they're getting water for fracking and what they're doing with wastewater after they're done," he says. "But there are no real restrictions on how much water they use and where it comes from."

California typically receives more than one-third of its water supply from melting snow in the Sierra Nevada mountain range - where this year, the annual snowpack was measured at a record low of eight percent of the normal snowfall in an average year.

Tommy Hough/Chris Thomas, Public News Service - CA